Led by senior Katie Flaute, the 24th-ranked Lady Vols cross country team turned in its finest performance of the season Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.
Tennessee defeated six ranked schools en route to a seventh-place finish in the 37-team “White Race” at the ISU Pre-Nationals Invitational.
“Moving in the right direction,” said coach J.J. Clark. “We are good and can be very, very good.”
There were 91 women’s teams on hand for a competition that was contested on the same 6,000-meter course that will host the NCAA Championship meet on Nov. 20. The Lady Vols tallied 291 points, finishing in seventh place in the “White Race.”
“(It was) one of our better races as a whole. On any given day any one of us can win,” said Flaute.
Fifth-ranked North Carolina State, fueled by an individual victory from Julia Lucas (20:01.4), claimed the team title with 117 points. No. 3 Michigan and No. 9 Wisconsin tied for second with identical totals of 176, while No. 8 UC-Santa Barbara (196), No. 17 Illinois (219) and No. 2 Colorado (228) finished ahead of UT in the fourth, fifth and sixth positions.
The Lady Vols topped six teams out of the top 29 teams including No. 14 Washington and No. 15 Oklahoma State.
Tennessee was led for the third time in four races this season by the two-time All-SEC and All-South Region performer Flaute. She completed the course in 20 minutes, 48.2 seconds to place 24th out of 253 runners. It marked Flaute’s fastest finish on the LaVern Gibson course in four appearances, as she cut last year’s time of 21:14.9 by almost 30 seconds.
“(It) gave us a boost, that we can still improve as a team,” said Flaute.
Clark’s squad, which improved to 82-9 on the campaign, got season-best efforts from sophomore Sarah Bowman and freshman Jackie Areson in the second and third scoring positions. Bowman cranked out a 20:55.9 effort to place 34th, while Areson handled the race in 21:16.2 to place 55th.
Sophomore Katie Van Horn finished fourth for the Lady Vols in 21:36.2 and 86th overall, while rookie Kelly Parrish was Tennessee’s fifth scorer, crossing the line 92nd in 21:41.1. Also running, but not scoring, was freshman Rose-Anne Galligan in 108th at 21:47.0 and senior Felicia Guliford right behind her in 109th at 21:47.6.
With only seven competitors per team allowed in the “White Race,” three other Lady Vols took part in the “Open Race” later in the day. Clark got a positive result from sophomore Leah Soro, as she made her season debut, finishing eighth out of a field of 226 runners in a time of 21:45.0 which would have been UT’s sixth-best clocking in the “White Race.”
Saturday’s meet was their final race of the regular season. The Lady Vols now focus their attention on championships beginning on Oct. 28. The Lady Vols plan to continue working in the weight room and on long distance in preparation for the Southeastern Conference Championships, said Flaute.
They travel to Baton Rouge, La., to compete in the SEC, where Tennessee will be seeking to win its fourth straight league title.